What kind of world have you been born into, Chloe?

Mt Alvernia Hospital was still under renovation as you came into our world. It’s the same hospital your father was born in. You came out straightforwardly at about ten at night. You are such a beautiful girl, with simple habits: cry,beautiful feet drink, pass motion, sleep.  You are altogether beautiful – just look at your toes! You are so low- maintenance – to us grandparents, at least. It’s surprising that one so little like you can bring so much joy to so many. It is a privilege and blessing to be called ah kong (grandfather) before people have a chance to call me ah pek (old man).

You probably do not know but you have been born in Singapore, not Korea. What kind of world is this? Well for sure it is kind of stressful. From the time you are three till you die the stress will ebb and flow all through life. It may get overcrowded – as overcrowded as what your mum says Seoul has become. But this projected overpopulation has yet to happen, for we have four general elections before “Excuse me” becomes the most used phrase in Singapore. The cost of living has risen while our wages have been stagnant. Cannot be helped, the experts tell us: global competition. As far back as I can remember, every ten years or so, prices have doubled for most things.  I will change tack now lest you suffer infantile stress or depression.

The world you are born into is one with baby bonuses and one where young couples get the red-carpet for doing what the government wants. It is a world which will shape and condition you and you will need the help of good people to resist some of the pressures to think and behave in certain ways. Things are gradually changing with regards to this and you have come at the right time to this country.

Chloe This world is also a safe place to be in. It’s something we are happy for and have often taken for granted. You will feel safe walking down the streets at night. Just watch out when you cross the roads, especially at traffic lights. The healthcare here is generally good. The education system is generally improving and better than in many countries but it is also highly competitive. Your mum says it’s worse in Korea, so take her word for that and be thankful you are in Singapore! I pray you will be linguistically smart. You need to be. Here it’s English and Mandarin. And you need to learn Korean too to communicate with your grandmother, aunty and other relatives.

Lord, have mercy. You know I was never good at foreign languages. Let Chloe have it easy with learning languages.

 Chloe, you will grow to be tri-cultural. You will be enriched by two proud cultures rich in history: Chinese and Korean. You will also grow up in a home and a church culture and an atmosphere that exudes God’s love.  May this kingdom culture take root in you and grow to be the grand tree that overshadows all others. May you grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Besides the loving watch of your father and mother you will be soaked in the love and favours of your uncle, aunties, grandparents, loved ones and Christian community.

Who knows what this world will morph into? All kinds of changes will take place in Singapore. All you need to know is that God does not change. So whether in sunshine or darkness, in valley deep or mountain peak, you have a Father God who will hold your hands and provide and lead you on. You have family and church who will teach you and journey with you. Through it all, God is your ever present help in times of trouble.

Chloe, you are one very blessed girl.

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

The pursuit of true happiness

pleasurable experiences often have social dimension If owning more and newer and better things does not make a person happy, then what does? In an article in the Straits Times, Tobias Chen and Ang Swee Hoon, a student and associate professor of NUS Business School, suggested that experiences have a greater effect of augmenting happiness than does the accumulation of possessions. “Increases in material possessions may well be accompanied by a decrease in happiness. This phenomenon, termed the “hedonic treadmill” says that as possessions increase, so do people’s expectations. Over time, people become less sensitised towards their possessions and require even more new possessions just to sustain the same level of happiness as before.”

They say research shows people gain more happiness by accumulating experiences. Going to the spa, attending a concert, playing golf, going on a holiday, and other pleasurable experiences: these does more for our personal happiness index than a new watch or house or car. The reason they theorize is that “experiences are more central to one’s self identity than material goods” as “people tend to describe themselves by the activities they engage in; rarely do they define themselves by the houses they live in, the cars they drive, or the watches they wear, even though these items convey certain characteristics about them”. The authors are on to something when they mentioned that part of the pleasurable experiences that give happiness had a “social” element, some relational factor which gave rise to this happiness.

Solomon, the son of David and Israel’s king of its golden age, had said that the accumulation of great wealth and possessions and experiencing of all kinds of conceivable pleasures does not give sustainable happiness. He added that neither does great works and accomplishments.

I said to myself, “Let’s go for it—experiment with pleasure, have a good time!” But there was nothing to it, nothing but smoke.

What do I think of the fun-filled life? Insane! Inane!
My verdict on the pursuit of happiness? Who needs it?
With the help of a bottle of wine
and all the wisdom I could muster,
I tried my level best
to penetrate the absurdity of life.
I wanted to get a handle on anything useful we mortals might do
during the years we spend on this earth.

4-8 Oh, I did great things: built houses,
planted vineyards,
designed gardens and parks
and planted a variety of fruit trees in them,
made pools of water
to irrigate the groves of trees.
I bought slaves, male and female,
who had children, giving me even more slaves;
then I acquired large herds and flocks,
larger than any before me in Jerusalem.
I piled up silver and gold,
loot from kings and kingdoms.
I gathered a chorus of singers to entertain me with song,
and—most exquisite of all pleasures—
voluptuous maidens for my bed.

9-10 Oh, how I prospered! I left all my predecessors in Jerusalem far behind, left them behind in the dust. What’s more, I kept a clear head through it all. Everything I wanted I took—I never said no to myself. I gave in to every impulse, held back nothing. I sucked the marrow of pleasure out of every task—my reward to myself for a hard day’s work!

11 Then I took a good look at everything I’d done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing.

12-14 And then I took a hard look at what’s smart and what’s stupid. What’s left to do after you’ve been king? That’s a hard act to follow. You just do what you can, and that’s it. But I did see that it’s better to be smart than stupid, just as light is better than darkness. Even so, though the smart ones see where they’re going and the stupid ones grope in the dark, they’re all the same in the end. One fate for all—and that’s it.

15-16 When I realized that my fate’s the same as the fool’s, I had to ask myself, “So why bother being wise?” It’s all smoke, nothing but smoke. The smart and the stupid both disappear out of sight. In a day or two they’re both forgotten. Yes, both the smart and the stupid die, and that’s it.

17 I hate life. As far as I can see, what happens on earth is a bad business. It’s smoke—and spitting into the wind.

18-19 And I hated everything I’d accomplished and accumulated on this earth. I can’t take it with me—no, I have to leave it to whoever comes after me. Whether they’re worthy or worthless—and who’s to tell?—they’ll take over the earthly results of my intense thinking and hard work. Smoke.

20-23 That’s when I called it quits, gave up on anything that could be hoped for on this earth. What’s the point of working your fingers to the bone if you hand over what you worked for to someone who never lifted a finger for it? Smoke, that’s what it is. A bad business from start to finish. So what do you get from a life of hard labor? Pain and grief from dawn to dusk. Never a decent night’s rest. Nothing but smoke.(Ecclesiastes 2, the Message)

As Solomon concluded from his experience, this pursuit of happiness is “bad business”, “nothing but smoke”. The possibility of lasting and true happiness came only with the death and resurrection of Jesus. With that sinful human beings can enter into a living relationship with the Triune God in the Person of Jesus. And beyond this vertical relationship, human beings can choose to relate to one another in a redemptive way. There is this new Eden where the Triune God in the person of Jesus is in fellowship with all His people, a people empowered by His redemptive work, to relate in authentic Christian community. This is where people find their self identity: in Christ and in Christian community. This is where true happiness is.

What the Singapore general elections 2011 showed me

Lee Hsien Loong showed me how difficult it is for leaders and scholars and highly paid professionals to say- Sorry, we were wrong.

George Yeo showed me that at times leadership entailed a vicarious sacrifice: one had to pay the penalty for the wrongs of others so that others may continue.

Low Thia Kiang showed me that the race is not to the strong, nor the swift, but to the patient.

Nicole Seah showed me that the young can lead when given the space to do so.

Chen Show Mao showed me the best are seeking significance not a higher salary.

Chiam See Tong showed me what passion and focus over the long haul looked like.

Dr Chee Soon Juan showed me the director behind the scenes is as important as the actors on stage.

Singaporeans showed me that when anger and frustration reaches a certain level caution is thrown to the wind.

PAP candidates showed me that we need to make literature compulsory until Junior College level.

The whole election showed me that leaders exist to serve people not just with the head but also with the heart, and to do this well you need a good mix in the cabinet team….and take a good look at Jesus.

Recommended reading: Stillhaventfound’s thoughts on the general elections.

A Christian’s simple guide to voting

Who should I vote for is the question on my mind and on your minds too. Some thinking and feeling and praying should go into my vote. To help me think through, I came up with a list of criteria. If you want to use it to help you in your decision go ahead but do attach your own individual weight of importance to each of the criteria. Since I am a preacher permit me to indulge in alliteration.

Personality

Who are the candidates in the GRC or the SMC? Certainly integrity of character and ability would be an important factor in my choice. While it is difficult to assess a candidate’s character in just two weeks, the testimony of others and character references do help. The speeches and interviews may also let slip some clues. Still it is advantageous for the incumbent, and since its difficult to be fair here, I give this less weight. I just need assurance there is no major doubts about the integrity or ability of the candidates to represent me in Parliament.

Property or practical benefits

This is probably the most self-centred of all the criteria as it has to do with “what’s in it for me and my family?” PAP’s explicit and publicly stated policy is to benefit whichever constituency votes in their candidates. This behaviorist’s approach of carrot and stick in politics has served them well in the past though today’s young voters are a different breed.

Party

Another approach is simply to choose the party whose platform and values I am most aligned to and consonant with. A perfect match is unlikely but I can surely choose the party I am most comfortable with. Read their manifestos and hear the speeches will help me reach a reasonable  judgment.

Principles

This criteria is related to the one before it: specific issues and policies. Cost of living, availability of affordable housing, ministers’ salaries, the immigration and foreign worker policy, the care of the elderly and the poor, casinos and their social costs, health care, transparency of dealings of national reserves, and other such matters that fire your heart.  Certainly, how strongly I feel for or against the present state of affairs will somehow be factored into my thinking process.

Perspective

The big picture, the long term good of the whole of Singapore comes to the forefront here. It’s no longer about whether my mum gets a lift at her floor, or upgrading of the landscaping in my area. It’s about the future I want for Singapore and for my children and children’s children. Which party is more likely to bring me towards that future?

Personal convictions and values

Faith cannot be totally divorced from this. The faith or religion I have does influence what I believe to be important in life and society, and therefore it does colour how I view the world and the decisions I make, including this vote. Christianity values the integrity and righteousness; peace and harmony; truth and justice; compassion and mercy; stewardship of the earth; etc.

Personal ranking of criteria

Individual Christians will of course place different weights of importance to each of these depending on their experiences, stage in life and convictions. Ranking the factors in order of importance helps me make a clearer decision, one that I can be at peace with, one that expresses the unique “me” at this stage of my life.

Prayer and peace

It is important to pray about my vote. Prayer is not only for when I am in trouble. The vote I take can then be free from the forces that have been unleashed by all the different political parties: fear and greed (the same forces that dominate the stock market). When these primal emotions dominate your personal landscape it is difficult to make a peaceful decision. Confidence in God’s love and care provides the basis for me to enter into a restful vote. So I will talk about this with the Lord.

Further reading: The Catholic Archbishop Chia’s pastoral letter for 2011 general elections.

The ACS spirit

the best is yet to be“Was that the ACS spirit? Or perhaps the MGS spirit?” I provocatively asked a young adult in my cell group. I was referring to a news report about a video of a birthday celebration that looked more like birthday ragging. It was done at ACJC. A group of 10 laughing girls crowded around her as they pinned her down and tied her hands to the chin-up bar. The girls tried to tape the victim’s mouth with masking tape when she started screaming repeatedly. They poured milk on her, stuffed cake into her face and even her blouse as  a crowd of 15 boys and girls looked on. After the ragging, the birthday song. To the birthday girl, who took it in her stride, it was “memorable”. The young adult said, “No it was not the ACS spirit!”

There were three from ACS so I asked them with curiousity. What is the ACS spirit? None were able to give a definitive answer. “It cannot be defined”. “It is unity and loyalty.” “It is being passionate and proud of your school”. Does the school give a clear written definition of what “it” is in its publications or talks? “No”. So what is “it”. Most government and neighbourhood schools don’t have “it”. Does MGS have a “MGS spirit”?, I inquired. “Yes it has “it”. RI seem to have “it”. SJI, St Andrew’s and Victoria also. Is “it” a sense of tradition and pride since it seems to be present in very old schools. Then why doesn’t Gan Eng Seng Sec Sch have “it”?

When I was studying at Swiss Cottage Secondary School, which was among the three best schools from Rochor to Woodlands,  🙂  Rudy Mosbergen was the principal and he tried to inculcate a Swiss spirit. It didn’t work. After he left for RJC or RI, the spirit left with him.

This spirit inhabits ex-ACS students and sort of holds them in loving bondage for a long time, often over several generations. Very few get delivered!  :) I know this from experience. I was climbing Mt Batur in Bali with some trekkies a few years back and we were all just conversing in the hotel room’s front porch when suddenly two persons in their mid fifties sort of “found” each other and realized they were both ex-ACS, and they both broke off spontaneously into the ACS school anthem, and they knew the words by heart. I was stunned and looked curiously for there before me was the “it” in manifestation. The “spirit” had take control of the subjects’ vocal chords and sung. I can’t remember the lyrics, not even the tune of my school song. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be caught singing it as an adult in front of other adults. To me, it was so uncool to be doing that, but they were doing it. I really had a good laugh and rubbed it in and they took it sportingly.

I googled “ACS spirit” to see if there was a definition but there was none. Instead I was led to a forum where an ex-ACS was ranting at the whole ACS spirit thing. It was “snobbery”. The ACS spirit existed only among the doctors, accountants, entrepreneurs and successful exes who attended the alumni dinners held at expensive places. It was the old boys network patting each others back. He claimed the ACS spirit comprised overly enthusiastic persistent insensitive evangelism; constant intolerable appeals and pressure for donations for all kinds of projects; and taunts and pressures to conform that came from various groups or cliques who were loyalists and true blue ACSian of several generations, among whom were informants, plants, agents,etc. Well for sure this one ex-ACS boy had a bitter experience there. (The rest better keep quiet, you may need to work for Ong Beng Seng or under Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam one day!)

I also asked the young adults, “Is the ACS spirit as strong in ACS Independent as it is in ACS Barker? What about ACJC, is “it” really present there?” Their answers are that “it” is present in ACS-i and Barker but less so in ACJC. The tougher question, which I didn’t ask them for obvious reasons, is:”Is the ACS spirit stronger in the older generation than in the present generation?” “Do they have it across the causeway?” Hmmm…this is one for the older to answer, and I think most will answer in negative, or with hesitation or doubt.

But it seems the “it” is present in the generation of Malcolm Loh, who wrote two posts in his blog which together with the ACJC birthday report got my juices going to write this post. This was what he said about the “it”:

“I realise that no matter how bald or fat some of us have become, there is a certain air of confidence that ACS boys have about them (others would call it arrogance). Even from a tender age of 7 at Primary 1, we were taught the school anthem (”ACS Forever”) and our motto (”The Best is Yet to Be”), and that is deeply ingrained in every single ACSian, so much so that this ACS-identity sticks with us through the rest of our lives. This is very evident to others, and that is why I know of many guys who, even though from other schools, have chosen to put their sons in ACS. I have yet to come across an ACSian who chooses to put his son in a school other than ACS.”

Another thing the ACS spirit exudes is this “cool” factor: that the ACS boy is not as nerdy and boring as the SJI or RI or St Andrew’s or other boys. They are happening and make nice dates. In fact, at a wedding dinner I heard the bride said one of her criteria for life partner is that he should be from ACS! She had said it tongue in cheek but I wonder if the bermudas, the BMWs and the bravado have created a brand that has become as desirable as Prada, among eligible females looking for a nesting partner?

(This was posted on 14 November 2008 and re-published because ACS was on my mind.)

Colourful Geylang

Geylang by night

In the night or by day, Geylang baffles logic and beauty. Its the only place in Singapore where URA(Urban Renewal Authority) have not stolen the soul with a heavy touch.

Everyone in Singapore has heard of Geylang. It is the red-light district. It is concentrated in the even-numbered streets from Lorong 8 to Lorong 18. When darkness falls the red lanterns light up and the ladies of the night stalk their prey. The horny and desperate males are the victims. The neon lights of scores of bars and hourly-rated hotels assault bystanders for attention. The sordid streets do not sleep. Brightly lit, they beckon the young and the retirees, of all races and nationalities.

Beyond this nucleus, are a hundred eating places, famous food hangouts where even the timid will venture, despite Geylang by daythe risk of a suspect reputation. Makansutra calls it paradise. From herbal tonics, and foods fabled as aphrosidiacs, to common street hawker fare, these restaurants open till the hours of morn. There are also the shopping emporiums, 24 hours convenience stores, and the fruit shops laden with durians that defy season.

Geylang in the daytime is just as colourful. Light industries litter the outskirts of the Viagra-laced streets. The taller and larger buildings are along the MRT tracks between Kallang and Aljunied. Scattered along the terraced shophouses are all kinds of small businesses from internet cafes, wholesale suppliers of timber and metal, electrical and electronic and furniture retailers. Banks (so similar to the red light area in their pecuniary intentions, as we have seen in the last year and a half) and even clinics position themselves there for a piece of the action.

Guilin building, GeylangThe irony is that side by side with the immoral are literally hundreds of civic and community groups, associations, churches, temples, and mosques. I take that back: maybe its not such an irony! Anyway, Geylang is a very religious place. The scents of incense, the colour green and red appear like a recurring theme. The church I grew up in and am now serving as the senior pastor is ten minutes away from where the red-light diestrict is. Its nearer to the HDB flats and the national library branch. Our next-door neighbours are private residential apartments, a condominium, a church and the Youth for Christ shared facility, and two famous temples.

The Urban Renewal Authority(URA) plan in 1992 had relocated many Chinese clan associations and community groups into the area. Many other religious organizations have followed suit because its difficult to find places elsewhere that is zoned for such purposes. According to the URA, places of worship serve the public whilst associations are allowed only private worship by members of the association as an incidental activity. On hearsay, there are about 30 to 40 Christian organizations/churches in Geylang.

Move aside Ms Ris Low; here’s Tyler Creasman!

I saw this Youtube video in Bloom where you’re planted and it got me cracking up with laughter. This video of Tyler Creasman, in a sketch during an international school event, was posted by his father, James Creasman, leader of CRMS(Church Resource Ministries, Singapore), a Christian mission dedicated to mentoring leaders. It is bound to be a hit Singapore Classic Youtube video. Tyler’s Singlish, or rather Winglish, viz, White Man’s Singlish, is lumber one and was featured in an article in CNNGo. Move aside Ms Ris Low; here is Ty-ler Creas—-man!!